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A nation with a single-member district electoral structure is divided into legislative districts, each of which has a single legislative vote. The method is well-known in the United States because it is used to elect members of the House of Representatives. In a nation that uses the scheme, electoral districts with approximately equal demographics are created for the purposes of elections. For example, the United States is divided into 435 congressional districts. The voting structure in the country is widely referred to as ‘winner-take-all,' since the candidate who receives the most votes in any region receives all legislative authority, regardless of whether he or she received less than 50% of the vote. Therefore, the system does not create room for awarding seats to the losers, even those, who compete closely. Notably, roughly 50% of the democratic states in the world apply the single-member district in their electoral system. The paper will keenly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the winner-take-all system, whether it is democratic, and compare it to the proportional representation system.
Democracy and Single-Member Districts
The single-member system is famous for encouraging gerrymandering, which is extremely undemocratic. During the processing of setting up electoral districts in the country, gerrymandering is a common strategy used to create political superiority for a certain party by manipulating the boundaries. Also commonly known as redistricting, gerrymandering is inequitable, as it allows the reigning representatives to select their voters and defend themselves against any political liability. The redistricting process in the single-member districts system brings out biased excesses leading to inevitable polarization. Also, the skewed boundaries make the parties more powerful and in a position to control the voters, who mostly end up being served by unaccountable leaders.
Additionally, the strategy of redistricting in the single-member system also discourages the unity among the community members. It is absurd that in some cities, the voters share councilmen, but have two or more different representatives. Carving up different neighborhoods and cities in the country significantly erodes democracy. The redistricting process helps the representatives from rigging the system, where they make it impossible to be removed from office by other aspirants, who could be more suitable. Further, the use of the winner-take-all system opposes institutionalization of fair politics, especially in the newly competitive states. When the party system is poorly rooted, a single-member law is likely to trigger the supremacy of one large party and regionalized support bases. Further, the use of the winner-take-all system opposes institutionalization of fair politics, especially in the newly competitive states. When the party system is poorly rooted, a single-member law is likely to trigger the supremacy of one large party and regionalized support bases.
Strengths of Single-Member Districts
The countries, which advocate for the single-member districts, cite various advantages associated with the system. The main argument presented is that the system is believed to present the electorate with more robust and strong district representation. The strong representation is tied to the fact that each voter has a single representative, who is easily identifiable and within reach. Additionally, having a representative, who relates to the local environment, the constituents are likely to receive better services.
Furthermore, the single-member district system enhances the accountability of the allocated resources and delivery of services. It is a lot easier to hold the elected representatives responsible. Thus, the future of their political careers depends mostly on their accountability with the public resources. Further, since the single-member districts are commonly used together with the majority voting rules, they are believed to nurture more stable and strong governments.
Weaknesses of Single-Member Districts
Just like any other electoral system, the single-member districts’ structure is not entirely perfect and has its faults. Firstly, its critics argue that the voting districts in the system demand being redrawn regularly with the changing in the demographics. The redrawing creates room for the manipulation of boundaries to favor the incumbents. Secondly, the single-member districts are normally viewed as artificial geographic units, where the boundaries created fail to outline the distinguishable groups. Failing to outline openly the recognizable groups makes the districts lose any unique relevance to the voters. For example, in the U.S., the women and the members of the racial minority groups are underrepresented in comparison to their population percentage, and this feeling leads to low voter turnout.
Finally, the districts have an established trend of over-representing the majority party. As a rule, other political parties are generally underrepresented. The issue of unequal representation fails to create an environment, where there is proportional representation of all the political parties. Also, the districts minimize the voters’ choice of the aspirants vying for any specific office.
Single-Member Districts and Proportional Representation
The proportional representation is famous for encouraging high voter turnout, unlike the winner-take-all system, which is prone to the spoiler effect. To curtail the spoiler effect, the political parties minimize the number of contenders. Decreasing candidates leaves the electorate with no agreeable choice, hence leading to low turnout. Notably, the western democracies, which have adopted the proportional electoral system, register a higher voter turnout than those with the single-member districts’ system. The unique feature of the proportional system is that it allows for diverse aspirants through the political spectrum, which creates a healthy competition. Therefore, the third party alternatives are always viable in the system, and the voters have more choices unlike in the winner-take-all system.
Furthermore, the proportional system allows for women and the racial minority groups to be represented in greater numbers. The issue of racial and political gerrymandering becomes irrelevant or is significantly minimized in a proportional system, since boundaries are not that important in the system. Nonetheless, the proportional system leads to the formation of big geographic districts, which cut the association between the elected leaders and the constituents. Markedly, a representative is said to be effective, if he or she understands intimately all the interests that are unique to the local constituents. Also, the robust link between the representative and locals is vital, as it leads to more accountability and responsibility with public funds. Therefore, despite the several disadvantages associated with the single-member system, it is better than the proportional system, as it emphasizes on linking the constituents with their representatives leading to better public service.
To sum up, it is evident that the winner-take-all system receives criticisms and support almost in equal measure. The critics of the system point out that the redistricting process is very unfair, because it leads to polarization. Gerrymandering appears to be the main source of the problems associated with the single-member system, since it gives the incumbents a competitive advantage in winning the elections leading to the continued stay in office of unsuitable politicians. However, the system makes it possible for the citizens to have solid district representation. Also, the elected representatives are easy to reach, hence making it easy to raise grievances once they arise. The element of solid representation and accountability makes the single-member system superior to the proportional representation. The proportional system is mainly criticized for the big districts established that minimize the association between the leaders and their constituents.
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